Several years back, I was having some problems at work. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, my efforts weren’t deemed good enough. Needing someone to talk to, I confided in my friend, Liz. Being from The South, she didn’t just offer a sympathetic ear. Her heritage compelled her to give homespun advice.
“Shake it off and step up,” she told me.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, completely confused.
With a sigh that bespoke long-suffering patience for us ignorant Left-Coasters, she told me the following story:
One day a mule fell in a dry well. He brayed and brayed for help, until finally, his owner, the farmer, came along. The mule could see him far above, scratching his head.
After looking down at the mule for a moment, the farmer disappeared. He returned a while later and threw a shovelful of dirt down onto the mule.
As the clods rained down upon him, the mule hung his head in despair. The farmer must have thought the situation was hopeless, for he was just going to bury him alive. After a few more piles of dirt hit him on the back, the mule lifted his face up to the farmer and brayed pitifully.
“Shake it off and step up,” the farmer called down to him.
The mule looked askance at his owner, but something told him to trust the farmer. So every time the dirt landed on him, he gave a brisk shake, then lifted each hoof until he had stepped up onto the growing pile of dirt. It wasn’t long before the mule noticed he wasn’t as deep as he’d been before. Eventually, with a lot of shaking off and stepping up, the mule was able to get out of that well all by himself.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Over the years I’ve remembered that story and as a writer, remains one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever been given.
Most of us tend to take the rejection of our work by agents and editors very personally. We even go so far as to refer to our books as “our babies”. We forget that the one rejecting our work is doing just that rejecting our work—not us personally.
Now, as rejections go, I’ve truly been blessed. I’ve never received a form rejection. That’s about as rare as being able to say “I’ve never had a speeding ticket”. The agent or editor has always written to me personally. Several times, they’ve even taken the time to write detailed letters explaining exactly what worked for them, what didn’t and why. But it’s still a rejection, and there’s still that moment of hurt when I read or hear the bad news. Then I remember my friend, Liz, telling me that story about the mule, so I shake it off and step up. I keep on writing and before I know it, I’m stepping up out of that well all by myself.